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Crime

Australia police arrest woman over strawberry needle scare

  • Arrest of 50-year-old came after more than 100 alleged incidents of pins and needles found in fruit were reported in September around the country
  • Strawberry growers complain arrest only related to ‘six or seven’ boxes, meaning most incidents were copycats or hoaxes
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 11:06pm

A woman has been arrested after a “complex” investigation into an Australian strawberry scare where needles were found stuck into the fruit, police said on Sunday, in a crisis that sparked panic in the fruit industry.

Queensland state authorities offered a large reward and the national government raised jail terms for such crimes after sewing needles were found in plastic boxes of the fruit sold in supermarkets in September.

Since the first case came to light when a man was taken to hospital with stomach pains after eating strawberries, more than 100 alleged incidents of pins and needles found in fruit, mostly strawberries, were reported in September around the country.

One incident was also reported in New Zealand.

Police said a 50-year-old woman was arrested on Sunday afternoon “following a complex … and extensive investigation” into the contamination case.

Australia’s strawberry scare spreads after needles found in fruit in New Zealand

“This is a major and unprecedented police investigation with a lot of complexities involved,” Detective Superintendent Jon Wacker said in a statement. “The Queensland Police Service has allocated a significant amount of resources to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.”

The woman was set to be charged on Sunday evening and appear in court in Brisbane on Monday.

Police did not reveal any further details, including what the charges would be or the reasons and motives behind her alleged involvement.

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The sabotage crisis led supermarkets to pull the fruit from the shelves and saw farmers dump tonnes of the unwanted berry. The government raised the maximum prison sentence for fruit tampering from 10 to 15 years.

Queensland Strawberry Growers Association spokeswoman Jennifer Rowling welcomed the news and said the crisis had a “crippling impact” on the state’s strawberry growers.

“However, it is disconcerting that the charges relate to only six or seven punnets (plastic boxes) of strawberries, proving that the majority of … incidents were copycats or false reports,” she told national broadcaster ABC.